In the mid-1980s, Ann Demeulemeester, star of the Antwerp imports, went against the grain: while women's bodies were on display, the lady in black layered and draped, proposing an alternative to the ideal. We sat down with the designer backstage minutes before her show, held early in the afternoon in a convent on the Parisian Left Bank. There, Ann calmly talked about her evolution since her first designs in the 80s, her love of music, and staying true to herself.
ALICE PFEIFFER: What is the Spring 2011 show all about?
ANN DEMEULEMEESTER: I would call it "Graphic Abstraction." It's an evolution. Every collection is a new step and I really felt ready to open a new register moving towards something pure, clear, graphic. But, at the same time, with abstraction.
PFEIFFER: How do you express this abstraction ?
DEMEULEMEESTER: By abstraction, I mean I worked with prints, which I made gigantically big, and then I cut them. All the pieces therefore come out differently, and it doesn't feel like a print anymore. It's not a graphic art thing, I like the idea that all the pieces are unique.
PFEIFFER: In the 1990s, the woman you created moved away from the then frequent, hyper-sexualized look. Today, more people have moved in that direction. How do you remain contemporary and unique?
DEMEULEMEESTER: I'm very aware of the influence I've had, and I'm very pleased with that, because it proves that my work was necessary, that people liked it, and that it was right for its time which is a big compliment. But of course, this means I now have to move on. If more people are doing what I'm doing, I have to evolve. I'm pushed toward a new direction, and I have to let myself be tempted, find out where I can go.
PFEIFFER: Does it feel like a forced, or organic evolution?
DEMEULEMEESTER: No it's nice, natural, it's never "been there done that," my work remains very interesting without losing my soul—because it's really me, and I am always honest with myself. I don't care what's in or out, I just listen to myself. And it's very nice to able to work like that. At the beginning people might have wondered what I was doing, but now they know my line, my evolution, I'm respected for that and that's a wonderful feeling.
PFEIFFER: So who is Ann Demeulemesteer today? What are you keeping with you, what are you leaving behind?
DEMEULEMEESTER: I never leave anything behind. It's like a history, a chain, a line of life, you just have to move and make new steps, and keep it evolving—but my soul is my soul.
PFEIFFER: You have worked with Patti Smith, and music has always seemed to be a great influence in your work—is that still the case today?
DEMEULEMEESTER: Yes. Music is very inspiring to me because "true" music releases a true energy that is just inspiring. It's like when you see a beautiful painting or a wonderful film. You just receive this creative energy, and all of a sudden you want to create too.
PFEIFFER: What music are you listening to today?
DEMEULEMEESTER: It's very very varied, it goes from electronic abstraction to violin, I just try to find interesting things. But of course I have my favorites who will always be there, I think you can guess what these might be!
PFIEFFER: Do you think fashion and women have fundamentally changed since you started? Which woman do you have in mind when you design today?
DEMEULEMEESTER: I don't like to generalize; I don't talk about the woman, because the woman doesn't exist. We're just lucky that we are able to choose. Those who feel like I do, who feel close to me find my product and find my soul. Each designer has a role to fulfill and you can never disappoint your audience, because it's for them that you're working. Naturally you always evolve, but my collection is about soul, about power.